Jillian chewed the top of her HB2 pencil. She’d changed the answer to question 14 so often on her math exam, that her white rubber eraser wasn’t working, and there was a hole in the B and C circle she’d filled in and erased over and over. She thumbed through the rest of the exam, there were still twelve pages to go, and she only had fourty two minutes left, that meant only three and a half minutes for each question. Why was she so stuck on this one question? Mr. Nelson had all the answers to this grade nine math final. If only she had x-ray vision and could see the answer key, or if it was possible for her to time travel. Stop fantasizing and do the work.
She shouldn’t keep spending all her time on one question, or she’d run out of time like she always seemed to be doing on her math tests this year. But she couldn’t let go. She glanced across the aisle at Tom's exam to see if he was way ahead of her. He always wore that long sleeved navy blue shirt when he took exams. He had his arm crooked over his answer sheet, but she could see he was already on the fourth to last page of the exam booklet. He coughed, and caught the attention of Mr. Nelson, who bellowed into the quiet tense room, “No looking at your classmate’s answers.”
To cover her movement, Jillian looked up over Tom at the large white clock on the hall, it was twenty after eleven. The scratching of pencils and turning of pages had ceased. Jillian felt an edgy silence and bowed her head low over her exam. She held her breath and waited for the exam room noises to resume.
But she couldn’t hear anything except the loud ticking from the large round white wall clock. Never mind the room and the others. Get on with the other questions, even if you guess, you’ll have better odds than if you don’t. What was that rule, if you don’t know in a multiple choice question, pick C. How that rule could possibly still work, she had no idea. How was it that everyone making up exams gravitated to putting the correct answer as C.
The ticking of the clock was getting faster, no that was her imagination. Time always went faster when you wanted more time and slower when you wanted it to hurry up. She bit her pencil, but held it back from her mouth. Her teeth hadn’t found the usual groove where she’d been biting the pencil. She held it out in front of herself. It looked brand new. She bit her lip. Where was her grubby white eraser that made black marks instead of erasing. The eraser on her desk was pristine and white. Her shirt sleeves were different too. She looked down at her top, she was wearing different clothes, a light peach crewneck sweater. Where was her black long sleeved tee-shirt she’d been wearing.
Did she dare look up? After all she still had to be in Mr. Nelson’s class taking the exam. She hadn’t moved from her seat. The math scrambled her brain, or her stress level must be too high, it was interfering with her senses.
“The correct answer for question 14 is…?” Mr. Nelson said. Hearing him surprised her so much, that she looked up to see him looking at her, and some of her classmates were looking at her as well. No one seemed to be working on the math exam.
She’d gone bonkers. Some of her classmates were wearing different clothes. Tom had on a white t-shirt with some horrible illustration. Every one had filled out answer sheets on their desk tops along with the exam booklets.
“Jillian, the answer for question number 14,” Mr. Nelson was looking at her his eyes magnified and waiting behind his blacks square glasses.
She squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them, and snuck a look up.
“Come on, we haven’t got all day,” Mr. Nelson said.
“I think C is the answer,”she said. She looked down only seeing a blurr on the page in front of her, hoping Mr. Nelson wouldn’t ask her how she’d arrived at that answer.
“The answer isn’t C, the answer is B,” he said.
B, that was what she’d put in the first place, that was her original answer. Why hadn’t she trusted herself?
She picked up her eraser. A fresh new eraser would work so much better. She picked it up and frowned, there it was, the old blackened eraser, definitely not a fresh one, and her hand was full of pencil marks. Her pencil was now the old one she was using in the exam, her fingers felt the familiar chewed indentations. Her shirt sleeves were her black long sleeved shirt not the fresh peach sweater.
Her answer page still had the rubbed out marks on question 14. Mr. Nelson had said B was the correct answer. She wrote out the proof and it worked. Okay, B it is, she did her best to make it clear that in all the rubbed out mess, that B was her final answer.
Criminy, how much time had she spent on that. She glanced up at the clock. What it couldn’t be? Still only twenty after eleven. Had she just suffered a halucination that Mr. Nelson had confirmed to the class that B was correct. She glanced uneasily at the clock. She could hear it ticking, but the minute hand wasn’t moving.
What if the answer wasn’t B but still C. She rechecked her proof. No, it still worked, and she remembered Mr. Nelson working out the question on the board.
She moved on to question fifteen which was easy and so were the next six questions. When she finished the exam, she realized this was the first time in a long time she’d finished a math exam. She looked up at the clock, and felt relief that the minute hand had moved. It was two minutes to twelve. She felt triumphant when she handed in her completed exam. Mr. Nelson grimaced when he saw the mess around question 14. She left the room, and decided she wouldn’t wear her peach sweater until after they’d gone over the exam in class.